Longsword by David Pilling

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Freebie freebie freebie!

LONGSWORD is up for free download on Kindle today - get it while it's hot!



Friday, 24 November 2017

Release day!

My new novel, LONGSWORD, is released today on Kindle! Paperback to follow...


England, 1266 AD. The kingdom lies in ruins after years of bitter civil war. Simon de Montfort is dead, slaughtered in battle, and his surviving followers fight on with the fury of despair. Known as the Disinherited, these landless men infest the forests and highways and prey on the common folk.

Hugh Longsword, a common soldier, fights for the King against the rebels who threaten to destroy England. He is taken into the service of the Lord Edward, King Henry’s eldest son, and made to work as a spy. Edward sends him into the wild north country, home to the most dangerous rebel captains: men such as Sir John d’Eyvill and his savage cousin Nicholas, known as the Beast for his cruelty.

While Hugh spies on these cut-throats, the King gathers all his forces to attack Kenilworth Castle, greatest of the rebel strongholds. Though hopelessly outnumbered, the defenders hurl defiance from the walls and refuse to surrender. One assault after another is repulsed, even as the north country slides into chaos and another band of Disinherited seize the Isle of Ely in the fens of Cambridgeshire. From their watery fastness they ride out to attack the Jews of Lincoln, burning deeds, slaughtering innocents and kidnapping the wealthiest for ransom.

One of those taken captive by the rebels is Esther, a widowed Jewess. She is carried away to Ely, where the Jews are treated with inhuman cruelty. Esther is rescued by Hugh, and they are hunted through the marshes by teams of soldiers and wolfhounds. Together they must survive all the dangers of a war-torn land, where law and justice are fallen away and only the strongest can hope to prosper.

Longsword is the latest historical adventure novel by David Pilling, author of Reiver, Soldier of Fortune, The Half-Hanged Man, Caesar’s Sword and many more novels and short stories.


Monday, 20 November 2017

Longsword on pre-order!

My new novel, Longsword, is now available on pre-order! The book will be released on Friday 24 November and can be ordered in advance on Amazon - see the link below. 



"England, 1266 AD. The kingdom lies in ruins after years of bitter civil war. Simon de Montfort is dead, slaughtered in battle, and his surviving followers fight on with the fury of despair. Known as the Disinherited, these landless men infest the forests and highways and prey on the common folk.

Hugh Longsword, a common soldier, fights for the King against the rebels who threaten to destroy England. He is taken into the service of the Lord Edward, King Henry’s eldest son, and made to work as a spy. Edward sends him into the wild north country, home to the most dangerous rebel captains: men such as Sir John d’Eyvill and his savage cousin Nicholas, known as the Beast for his cruelty.

While Hugh spies on these cut-throats, the King gathers all his forces to attack Kenilworth Castle, greatest of the rebel strongholds. Though hopelessly outnumbered, the defenders hurl defiance from the walls and refuse to surrender. One assault after another is repulsed, even as the north country slides into chaos and another band of Disinherited seize the Isle of Ely in the fens of Cambridgeshire. From their watery fastness they ride out to attack the Jews of Lincoln, burning deeds, slaughtering innocents and kidnapping the wealthiest for ransom.

One of those taken captive by the rebels is Esther, a widowed Jewess. She is carried away to Ely, where the Jews are treated with inhuman cruelty. Esther is rescued by Hugh, and they are hunted through the marshes by teams of soldiers and wolfhounds. Together they must survive all the dangers of a war-torn land, where law and justice are fallen away and only the strongest can hope to prosper.

Longsword is the latest historical adventure novel by David Pilling, author of Reiver, Soldier of Fortune, The Half-Hanged Man, Caesar’s Sword and many more novels and short stories. .."


Friday, 17 November 2017

Another sneak preview

...of the sequel to Reiver! I hope to have two new stories out before Christmas, and Reiver: The Sword's Edge is the second. Below is the cover for what will be a novella rather than a longer work. Again, more details to follow soon...


Sunday, 12 November 2017

A sneak preview...

...just to (hopefully) whet a few appetites, here is the cover for a new book I hope to have out before Christmas. More info to follow soon!



Monday, 6 November 2017

Book review

As a change of pace, here's my review of a new book by Dr Sean Davies and published by Pen & Sword Books on the Welsh wars of Edward I. Regular readers of this blog will know of my interest in Edward's reign, and this book is an interesting, though not wholly successful, attempt at tackling a big subject.



Dr Sean Davies’s new book on Edward I’s so-called conquest of Wales is an interesting addition to a thorny subject that continues to ignite emotions to this day, 700 years after the fact: witness the recent controversy over the proposal to erect a giant ‘iron ring’ artwork in Flintshire to commemorate Edward’s castles.

Unfortunately the book is a mixed bag and suffers from its brevity. Just 183 pages is inadequate to cover the full gamut of Edwardian campaigns in Wales, with a lengthy introduction that seeks to provide the backstory of English-Welsh relations from the advent of the Saxons in Britain. Davies manfully attempts to address everything, but in such a short work, covering such a lenthy period and detailed subject, is bound to fall short. For more in-depth analysis of the original source material, John Morris’s 1901 masterwork The Welsh Wars of Edward I (from which this book heavily draws upon) is still essential reading. More recently, the books of Paul Martin Remfry build upon Morris’s study and provide detailed analysis of Edward’s military campaigns, their organisation and implementation. In this last respect, Davies’s claim to have produced the ‘first scholarly account’ of the conquest of Wales in 100 years is questionable.

Unlike recent popular histories of Edward I’s Welsh affairs, Davies makes an effort to approach the subject in an even-handed manner. Yet as the book progresses a certain noticeable bias does creep in. Davies claims the princes of Wales treated their opponents in a ‘chivalrous’ manner absent from their ruthless English counterparts. This might reasonably be said of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the sense that he did not kill his treacherous brothers. Otherwise he showed little mercy in disinheriting Rhodri, imprisoning Owain and doing nothing for Dafydd after 1263. Welsh princes in general were not kind to their enemies: the Welsh chronicles, Bruts and Annales Cambriae, are littered with examples of Welsh noblemen mutilating their kinsmen in order to bar them from succession. This custom was practiced elsewhere, of course, notably among the Byzantines, but the blinding and castration of one’s relatives does not amount to the medieval concept of chivalry.

Davies also makes the unfortunate claim that Llywelyn and his brothers desisted from attacking church property during their wars against Edward, while the English pillaged and destroyed with abandon. The author appears to be unaware of (or has deliberately omitted) the charges laid against Llywelyn and Dafydd of plundering religious houses in North Wales and Staffordshire. Davies also provides the reader with an incomplete picture of the relationship between Dafydd and the future Edward I. In 1264 forces under their joint command attacked the estates of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby and Edward’s most hated rival at this time. The author’s decision to omit Ferrers altogether leaves a gap in his narrative, especially since Ferrers and Dafydd later became brothers-in-law.   

Elsewhere Davies is on more solid ground, and provides some compelling arguments. His account of Llywelyn’s early military success is excellent, in particular the Welsh prince’s effective siege operations against the Mortimers of Wigmore. Davies convincingly argues against the view of Edward I’s most prominent recent biographer, Michael Prestwich, that Edward was mistaken in using such large numbers of native Welsh troops in his Welsh campaigns. Davies makes the point that the alternative - small numbers of English levies and foreign mercenaries - had failed time and again and would surely have proved disastrous. Davies does not indulge in hero-worship of Llywelyn, though he clearly finds him an admirable figure. The complaints laid against Llywelyn’s lordship in Gwynedd, his extortionate taxes and breaking of native custom, are acknowledged if hurriedly passed over. Llywelyn’s political errors, specifically his failure to perform homage to Edward, are also discussed, though in general criticism of the prince is rather muted. Davies frequently quotes chunks of poetry, composed in praise of Llywelyn by contemporary Welsh bards. The poetry is nice to read, but again leaves the reader in no doubt as to the author’s sympathies.

There are some factual errors. Davies mistakenly names Edward I’s brother, Edmund of Lancaster, as commander of military operations against Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287. In reality it was Edmund of Cornwall, Edward’s cousin, who led crown forces against Rhys. Davies repeats John Morris’s claim that Edward’s Gascon mercenaries suffered 30-50% casualties in the final months of the war of 1283. This highlights a key weakness of the book, namely Davies’s tendency to parrot other authors without checking their sources. Morris gave no reference for these casualty figures, and there is little in the Welsh Rolls or other sources to support them. Davies also sometimes struggles to maintain his objectivity when assessing the character and actions of King Edward, and it was a mistake (in my view) to publish the unsupported allegations of Matthew Paris. Chapter headings such as ‘Crushed under the heel of Longshanks’ also do little to maintain a tone of professional disinterest.  

With regard to Edward’s campaigns in Wales, Davies is careful to acknowledge the king’s military competence; his skill at organisation and logistics and ability to react swiftly to a crisis. Davies’s account of the wars is heavily influenced by John Morris, that inescapable source, complemented by Prestwich and Marc Morris and quotations from the Ancient Calendar of Correspondence. To his credit, Davies does quote correspondence in full, though again he has a slightly annoying habit of referencing other scholars instead of giving his own opinion: the text throughout is larded with ‘According to Professor Rees-Davies…’ or ‘According to Dr Marc Morris…’ and so on. Davies noticeably resorts to this method when he has something contentious to say, particularly with regard to Edward’s methods of raising finance. A degree of bias is again demonstrated by the author’s unquestioning acceptance of the various complaints against royal administration submitted by Welsh lords after the war of 1277. Petitions from this era were always driven by vested interests, and cannot be fairly credited without due analysis: J Beverly-Smith, in his seminal study of the career of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, makes this point. Davies simply takes them all at face value and encourages the reader to do the same.

This leads on to Davies’s startling use of the term ‘apartheid’ to describe post-conquest conditions in Gwynedd. The use of such a modern, emotionally and politically loaded term in a serious study of medieval history is not acceptable. The alleged policies of racial segregation inside Edward’s new bastide towns are not mentioned in any surviving legislation from the reign: they are first outlined in the Record of Caernarvon, which dates from the mid-14th century. Petitions dating from Edward’s reign and afterwards provide a muddled view, with some evidence of the English king deliberately encouraging English-Welsh intermarriage inside the bastides. The subject of precisely when and why the ‘apartheid’ policies were introduced is well worthy of study, but Davies makes no effort to do so. It is true that a policy of displacing Welsh communities was employed in the new lordships created for Reynold de Grey and Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, but these were administered separately to Edward’s royal demesne lands in Gwynedd. A more in-depth study of the relevant sources, such as the Survey of the Honour of Denbigh, would have been ideal.
 
Ultimately, for all its positive elements, this book relies too heavily on second-hand interpretation and previous accounts of Wales in Edward I’s time. Primary sources are extensively quoted, but there is little sign of any original research. This is a shame, since a great deal of primary source material relevant to the subject remains to be accessed and interpreted.




Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Subtle traitors, part 3

...and third and last!

SUBTLE TRAITORS, part 3 - by David Pilling


While Lord Hunsdon and Sir John Forster scrambled to muster their forces, the rebellious Leonard Dacre gathered his own troops at Naworth. The Border had been in turmoil for a month. Starting on January 26th, and continuing every night for four weeks, the Scottish reivers hit England with one foray after another. Among them was the Earl of Westmoreland, recently fled into Scotland after his failed rebellion. He and his allies Ferniehurst, Scott of Buccleuch and Johnston, sought to provoke war between the two kingdoms. When the north slithered into chaos, they intended to ride south, liberate Mary Queen of Scots, and topple Elizabeth Tudor from her throne.  

Westmoreland and his crew were not equipped to realise these high ambitions. Their attack on Wark Castle was beaten off, and they had to content themselves with burning corn and stealing sheep belonging to the captain of the garrison, Rowland Forster. On January 30th they rode as far as Morpeth, where they were rumoured to have allies. On other occasions they targeted Kirknewton, about six miles from the Scottish border, where they roughed up local tenant farmers and carried a few away as prisoners. More seriously, they attacked Learmouth, though this town also proved too well-stocked and garrisoned to be taken. The English ambassador in Scotland, Thomas Randolph, carefully monitored events and sent a detailed report to Queen Elizabeth in London. He described the raids themselves as mere pin-pricks; worryingly, however, they had the full support of the Marian party and might lead to a full-scale rising in northern England. Elizabeth was warned by other agents of “whispering and mutiny” in the northern counties.

The English and Scottish confederates invested their hopes in Dacre. He had proved a fickle ally in the past, but only he had the power to raise enough men to threaten the north. Elizabeth was alive to the danger he posed, and ordered her wardens to arrest him. Lord Scrope, Warden of the West March, appreciated the danger of simply riding to Naworth and seizing the culprit: the Dacre family was far too popular in the north country and his tenants would resist any such attempt. Instead Scrope tried subtlety and invited Dacre to Carlisle on false pretences. Dacre refused to walk into such an obvious trap. He pretended he was too ill to travel and was suffering from a “contagious ague” as well as a sore leg. At the same time he sent a secret message to the rebels in Scotland with apologies and promised “he would soon show himself openly their friend.” His brother Edward, always true to the Marian cause, reassured Westmoreland of Dacre’s support:

“My lord of Westmoreland, he hath assured me, upon his honour, by giving his hand unto me, that if he might have the certainty of your handwriting, that you would maintain the Catholic faith and the Queen of Scottish action, he would with like parts, be yours, til death.”


Leonard now set about putting his fine words into action. He openly gathered forces from among the English and Scots borderers, until he had 3000 riders under his command. To anxious queries from royal officers, he explained that he needed these men to defend his lands against rebel raids. To his tenants, he claimed that Queen Elizabeth meant to seize his rightful inheritance. In reality Dacre meant to use these men to help Westmoreland depose the Queen and install Mary in her place.

For all his cleverness and scheming, he had reckoned without Elizabeth’s loyal wardens. Hunsdon and Forster rode hard through the night with about 1500 men and arrived at Naworth on the morning of February 20th, intending to arrest Dacre. On the way they had witnessed hundreds of men, horse and foot, scrambling to join the traitor’s army. Naworth was too strong to attack, so the wardens decided to push on to join Lord Scrope at Carlisle. They had to move quickly: Dacre’s forces were swelling by the hour, and another 1500-2000 men under Westmoreland and Buccleuch expected to cross the border at any moment.  

Had Dacre sat tight at Naworth and waited for reinforcements, Anglo-Scottish history might have taken a very different course. As it was, the little army marching across his front proved too tempting a target to ignore. He led his men out of Naworth and shadowed the wardens for four miles, until Hundson and Forster arrived at the banks of the Hell Beck, a river flowing through one of the loveliest parts of Cumberland. Here, amid a landscape of beautiful woodland and rocky river gullies, Dacre chose to offer battle. He seized a ridge of high ground above the Beck, unfurled his red steer banner and ordered his men to send up the old war-cry:
“UPON THEM! UPON THEM! A DACRE, A DACRE, A RED BULL!”

With their backs to the rushing water, Hunsdon and Forster had little choice but to fight. Hunsdon’s men hurriedly formed up, even as Dacre’s entire force spilled down the moor in a headlong charge. Lord Hunsdon was impressed by the valour of the rebels: it was, he later wrote, “the bravest charge upon my shot I ever saw.”

Brave but futile. Dacre’s mixture of tenant farmers, Border riders and outlaws were up against trained soldiers, who calmly unleashed a volley of caliver and pistol fire into their ranks. The rebel line staggered, but still the red bull banner flew, and the survivors tore into Hunsdon’s troopers. At this crucial moment, with the fight raging all across the moor, a trumpet sounded: old Forster came plunging into the rebel flank at the head of five hundred horse, laying about him with pistol and sabre like a man half his age. The impact of his wild charge shattered Dacre’s army, and the battle dissolved into a chaotic series of duels and melĂ©es, fought up and down the length of the Beck. According to one chronicler, Dacre had summoned a number of women to fight alongside their menfolk: “there were among them many desperate women that gave the adventure of their lives and fought stoutly.”

In the end, the rebels were slaughtered. Three to four hundred were left dead on the field, many other seriously wounded, and over two hundred taken prisoner. Dacre himself was nearly caught, but was rescued and hustled off the field by a band of Scots. He left his red bull standard behind him, promptly seized by Hunsdon as a trophy of war. Hunsdon begged the Queen for permission to keep the banner and display it in his hall (“which I trust the law of arms will allow me to bear”).

The rebel cause lay in ruins. Hopes for a cooperative rising between Scots and English, to liberate Mary and revive the Catholic faith in England, had failed utterly. Even so, Dacre and Westmoreland remained free to cause further trouble, and the borderlands were far from settled. Lord Scrope offered a full parson to any who chose to submit, but later reported that only five hundred or so had agreed to come into the peace. Thousands more wandered the March or went into southern Scotland, where they were greeted and openly maintained by Scotsmen who held fast to the Marian cause.

For the time being, at least, the Border was secure from invasion. After their victory Hunsdon and Forster rode on to Carlisle, where Hunsdon spied a company of Scottish riders approaching from the north. This was the advance guard of Westmoreland’s army, arrived just too late to join Dacre. In his letters Hunsdon thanked God for the deliverance, and remarked that in another three hours Dacre would have been reinforced by hundreds of Scots. “If we had tarried,” he reflected, “Dacre would have been past dealing with.” For her part, Elizabeth sent back a reply full of unusual warmth and gratitude, in which she referred to Hunsdon as “my Harry.”

As so often on the Border, it had been touch and go.